The Uniform Commercial Code and Lemon Laws

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The Uniform Commercial Code (UCC) was originally drafted by legal scholars in 1952 in order to provide consistency in transactions that occur in more than one state. For example, you car may have been manufactured in Detroit, you may have bought it in Philadelphia, and you may have registered it in Rochester, where you now live. If something goes wrong with your car, and Michigan, Pennsylvania, and New York each have substantially different laws regarding the manufacturer’s obligations to you, resolving the issue would be problematic. The UCC seeks to smooth out the differences and provide those conducting interstate transactions with the same set of rules.

The UCC isn’t, by itself, a law; rather, it’s a set of guidelines developed by the National Conference of Commissioners on Uniform State Laws and the American Law Institute. The UCC has become law because each state and the District of Columbia have adopted it (sometimes with revisions) to help pave the way for interstate commerce.

Car buyers are covered under Article 2 of the UCC, which governs contracts for the sales of goods. There are four areas that are applicable: tender, acceptance, rejection, and revocation.

  • Tender basically says that you can reject a car if it doesn’t conform to the contract. The problem is that cars are too complex for the average person to immediately know whether or not there’s a problem.
  • Acceptance implies that you accept the car with the expectation that the manufacturer will fix any problems that are under warranty. The problem is that most people buy cars from dealers, not manufacturers.
  • Rejection means that you can reject the car if you discover there’s a defect after you’ve driven it. The problem is that there are no defined time periods or odometer readings, so the manufacturer can say that your test drive gave you ample time to reject the vehicle.
  • Revocation means that you can revoke your acceptance of the car if, after a period of time, the car is in substantial nonconformance with the contract. The problem is that “nonconformity” isn’t clearly defined.

Lemon owners became increasingly frustrated with the burdens imposed by the UCC, specifically because it doesn’t define the length of time that a vehicle should be covered or the number of miles a vehicle can be driven. In 1980, the California Legislature attempted to bridge the gap with the introduction of a Lemon Law. While the California legislation didn’t pass, the Connecticut legislature succeeded in passing the nation’s first Lemon Law, which was signed on June 4, 1982.

Today, every state and the District of Columbia has a Lemon Law on the books, and most people who find themselves with a lemon vehicle are able to find justice using Lemon Laws. However, Lemon Laws vary greatly from state to state, and there are circumstances where the UCC can still provide consumers with an avenue of redress.

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